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Make the Mississippi River a Critical Conservation Area

May 19, 2014

Last week, signs of Congressional support from Wisconsin and Minnesota for designating the Mississippi River as a region that needs federal conservation funding were a positive step toward saving the river from too many decades of pollution.

On Wednesday, May 14, Wisconsin Congressman Ron Kind and Minnesota Congressman Tim Walz issued a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asking for the entire Mississippi River to be designated as a Critical Conservation Area under the federal farm bill's new Regional Conservation Partnership Program. The move was reported in the Wisconsin Ag Connection and made statewide headlines on Wisconsin Public Radio this morning.

Conservation programs not only protect the habitats of threatened and migrating wildlife, but federal support for effective wetland management can help to control floods, balance irrigation demands and prevent erosion. All of these efforts are essential for improving the health of the water and soil on which our agricultural economy, our regional food systems and our families depend.

“Wisconsin and Minnesota are at the top of this complex river system,” said Kim Wright, “and our agricultural economies can only be as healthy and sustainable as the rivers and wetlands in our watersheds. We must take steps to ensure that our agricultural runoff doesn’t continue to contribute to Mississippi River pollution downstream. Better monitoring and enforcement from a stronger Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, combined with federal funding for critical conservation partnerships along the basin, are essential to saving this valuable natural resource.”

If designated as a critical conservation area, the program would provide important funding for effective conservation measures that must be put in place before the water quantity and quality problems along the entire Mississippi River basin get worse. The most notable problem is the growing dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico where agricultural runoff and industrial nitrogen and phosphorus pollutants are the cause of hypoxia.

“While many other areas in the country will be asking the USDA for Regional Conservation Partnership Program designations in only eight Critical Conservation Areas, the size and regional impact of cooperative programs along the Mississippi River would have the greatest impact across the ten, Mississippi River border states,” said Wright.

Midwest Environmental Advocates partners with eighteen other organizations in the Mississippi River Collaborative, a network of nonprofits that work to improve state and federal policies that restore lands, reduce pollution, and strengthen advocacy for restoration in the Mississippi River basin. Since 1992, the McKnight Foundation has supported multi-state collaboration to provide legal and technical comments on pollution permits, encourage participation in state farm programs, and coordinate with national experts to encourage state governments to adopt numeric criteria standards for water quality that would provide consistency in controlling water pollution. Designating the Mississippi River as a Critical Conservation Area would be a significant step toward achieving the Mississippi River Collaborative’s goals to protect this important river system.

Want to take action on this issue? The Mississippi River Network - a basin-wide citizen network of river advocates - has an action page on their website for citizens to contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture in support of making the Mississippi River a Critical Conservation Area.

/ tagged: federal, wetlands, government, agriculture, mississippi river